Adding injury to insult: If you got laid off, then you'll probably get sick, too

If you lose your job -- and, by extension, your health insurance -- you're in for the third leg of a triple whammy: getting sick. Getting fired, or laid off after your department (or entire company) shuts down, can be as hazardous to your health as to your ego.

The latest issue of Demographyincludes a study that surveyed workers who lost their jobs in 1999, 2001, and 2003, and found that many reported health issues after losing their jobs. Kate Strully, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation scholar at the Harvard School of Public Health, used data in her study from a U.S. report surveying Americans on their employment status and self-reported health. She found that, among those who hadn't reported health issues before losing their jobs, an astonishing 80% were diagnosed with high blood pressure, arthritis, and other ailments within 18 months after being shown the door. Medical issues were more common among blue-collar workers.

The study is interesting and timely for showing the actual evidence of what many have long suspected: that stress and anxiety, especially about financial issues, lead to medical problems. A 2008 AOL-Associated Press survey found that people with high levels of debt-related stress had a 44% chance of experiencing migraines or other headaches, compared with only 15% of those with low debt stress. They also had a 27% chance of getting ulcers or other digestive problems (versus 8%), a 29% chance of severe anxiety (versus 4%) and a 23% chance of severe depression (versus 4%).

What can people do to mitigate the mental effects -- and their ensuing physical manifestations -- of job loss and financial insecurity? Being open about your problems seems to help. Kelly McGonigal, a Stanford psychologist, told The Washington Post in 2007 that telling friends and relatives about debt and financial issues can bring some relief. But the bottom line is that financial stress and health problems are inextricably linked, and, worse, they can kick off a vicious cycle of additional financial woes, and additional health problems. It's not a huge surprise that when you lose your job, you bring the pain -- literally -- but with our unemployment rate hitting 8.9% and rising, it's sobering to think of how many of us in psychic pain are in physical pain, too.
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